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On one side you have a male model slaying the 1990s CGI Baldur with his sword in the commercial for the U.S. Marines, and on the completely opposite side of the spectrum, you have the first 27 minutes of the war classic Saving Private Ryan. One gimmicky shows how boys around the world picture being in a war, the other one graphically presents the actual horrors men barely past their teens had to endure.
Steven Spielberg’s 2 hours and 49 minutes long masterpiece from 1998 about a group of United States World War II soldiers on D-Day landings at Omaha beach, and then some, remains the best depiction of war in cinematography. A synopsis of a company of soldiers who are on a PR mission to save a single soldier behind enemy lines because his three other brothers have died on the battlefield may resemble cheezy pretenses of ’90s action movies. But it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Following the most important battle of the western European front in WWII, the soldiers advance further up France in their absurd mission to find a single man in a stormy sea of them.
The movie boasting an almost unrivaled ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Edward Burns was both a commercial and critical success. At the box office, the war drama earned $481,840,909 worldwide! Steven Spielberg won the Oscar for best director, and his movie picked up another four Academy awards and six nominations.
To this day it remains a beloved film, as it sits at #29 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies List with an average score of 8.6 after more than a million votes. 95% of the audience voters on Rotten Tomatoes liked the movie, with the critics score being slightly lower at 93%. Meaning that there were 10 negative reviews for the 1998 classic, and those ten reviewers should be banned from approaching the keyboard and the movie theater both.
It seems that Saving Private Ryan has cemented its place as the number one war movie of all time. Many thought that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will be the movie to dethrone Saving Private Ryan as the best war movie ever, yet British director’s film was more of a thriller than a war movie. Although not without merit, it had other flaws that faltered it.
SPR does perfect on all of its fronts, it does the physics of warfare perfectly, it depicts the war tactics of the times comprehensibly without diluting, it shows the system that is the military effortlessly, it touches on the mental aspects of war without cheesiness.
It makes the viewer ask profound, deep questions during the carnage that happens throughout. It raises eternal themes, touching on the idea that war is in human nature, but it’s also so viciously against it. Probably the second best war movie of all time, and SVP’s peer – Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, strums this theme more extensively, although some might see it to be a bit over the top.
When rounding up its biggest competitors for the heavyweight crown of cinema that is the best war movie, heavyweight as they are so difficult to make logistically, one must mention the somewhat forgotten Black Hawk Down. Purists might say that the events of the movie show a military conflict, not a war, but it’s semantics and Ridley Scott’s creation is probably the only movie out there with a stronger ensemble cast than Saving Private Ryan. Full Metal Jacket (1987) is only a war movie for its second half and the scale of warfare, in terms of size and importance, can’t compare to Saving Private Ryan.
All these other great war movies might have Saving Private Ryan beat at one aspect of it, The Thin Red Line in cinematography, Black Hawk Down in action value, Apocalypse Now (1979) in coolness, but all around, they succumb to the mother of all war movies.